California’s Vision for Workforce Development

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

January 18, 2022

As a single state among America’s 50, California is unique. In addition to being the country’s third-largest state geographically and the one with the biggest population (40,000,000), California also boasts the country’s largest state-based economy, with a ~$3 trillion Gross State Product (GSP) in 2020, making it the fifth-largest economy in the world. With such a richness of resources, it’s not surprising that the State also offers unparalleled opportunities for personal, local, regional, and statewide growth in hundreds of sectors and industries. That reality is the foundation of California’s vision for its Post-COVID economic recovery, and it’s gaining traction in that recovery process because of its extensive network of 116 community colleges. The trick is to tie their efforts to the local, regional, and statewide labor demands of the State’s thousands of industries and businesses. 


California’s Constellation of Economic Development Assets

To borrow from the adage: it takes a village to repair an economy. To rebuild the State’s economic, environmental, and social tapestries, California must harness all appropriate resources toward that end. In 2012, the State began its quest to remake its community colleges into workforce development sites that connected well-trained workers to the jobs and businesses that needed them. Through the intervening years, the State has developed a network of governmental and industrial resources to match up its economic development efforts with the educational activities of the community colleges.

Government Resources

Building and maintaining economic resources is the State’s primary function.

The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) provides a range of business-based services designed to build and expand existing economic realities. From attracting new business opportunities to the State to streamlining permitting procedures and developing international trade opportunities, GO-Biz is invested in helping the Californian economy thrive.  

The California Workforce Development Board is the Governor’s agent for managing the State’s workforce investment system. This entity develops the policies that guide the industrial, educational, and social practices that underpin economic activities.            

Locally based workforce development boards coordinate these efforts at and local levels. A total of 45 ‘Local Area’ development boards pursue public and private partnerships between governments and industries to enhance economic opportunities and growth within each region.

California’s Employment Development Department performs a variety of economic services across the State, including dispersing labor market data, providing financial and industrial analyses, and forecasting trends in education, business, and industries.

A variety of adjacent services provide more intense or personal supports for Californians, including the Department of RehabilitationCalWORKS, and CalFresh Employment & Training (E&T), among several others.  


California Community College (CCC) Resources

Meanwhile, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) has been steadily working toward the State’s economic goals, too. The CCCCO’s primary function is the administration of its 116 community colleges. Together, these schools offer more than 350 distinct fields of study, 4,500+ associate degree programs, and over 8,000 certification programs to more than two million students annually. Of those students, more than 25% (500,000+) engage in CTE programs and coursework. The agency’s Workforce & Economic Development Division (WEDD) oversees the administration of CTE programs and how they respond to laborforce demands. It also manages state, regional, and local activities driven by California’s Strong Workforce Program (SWF), Adult Education Program (AEP), Apprenticeship Initiative, and the Economic Workforce Development programs (EWD) at each school.     

Coordinating the efforts of all these schools to achieve overarching, state-level goals is a challenge, which the CCCCO has addressed by implementing two key strategies: 

It approaches the State not as a monolithic entity but instead as a set of eight regions, each of which encompasses all the CCCs within its borders. A ‘consortia’ of CCC leadership from all those schools coordinates regional Career and Technical Education programming (CTE) to establish strategies that connect their CCC students to the jobs and careers they seek. 

It’s been expanding the State’s CTE programming to fill the labor force demand of those regional businesses and industries.


New Initiative Opens New Opportunities …

In response to the economic chaos generated by the COVID-19 pandemic and in conjunction with state and local governments, the CCCCO has launched its most ambitious project yet to pursue statewide economic growth. The 2021 Regional Collaboration and Coordination (RCC) initiative seeks to merge the CTE effort of all the schools in each individual consortia region into a unified workforce development ‘agency’ that is responsive to the needs of both the regional population and the industries within its borders. An added element is an intentional effort to address and repair the damages done by inappropriate but embedded biases and discriminatory activities found in many governmental and industrial systems. The promise of the initiative is to engage all of the State’s resources in its economic recovery so that all of its residents can benefit from those gains. 

The RCC project was compelling changes to the CCC system right from the start. Initially divided into seven consortiums, the RCC grant application process revealed the significant geographical and logistical difficulties posed to the consortium of schools found in the combined Los Angeles and Orange County region (LAOCRC). Together, these two counties are home to 28 CCCs and serve ~700,000 students each year. The size of the combined school districts made a single RCC effort unreasonable, so the collective group of LA and OC college CEOs elected to separate them into two individual regions: the Los Angeles County region and the Orange County region. Even after the split, implementing the RCC initiative will be challenging, especially for the newly named ‘Los Angeles Regional Consortium‘ (LARC) since it is home to 19 CCCs that serve over half a million students each year. 

Pasadena City College (PCC) has been named the RCC LARC coordinator, which launched January 1, 2022. In this role, PCC will work with LA County CTE departments, Economic and Workforce Development departments (EWDs), CCC administrations, and regional businesses and industries to define both the assets and challenges of the regional economy and devise appropriate and successful responses to current and emerging needs. The group will need to access all available governmental and CCC resources to implement the RCC goals.  

California’s CCC-based approach to its Post-COVID-19 economic recovery is yet another element that makes the State truly unique as a leader among America’s states.   





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